Ryan Platten: “Internal Strife”
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
– Author Brad Meltzer
It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. I’m sitting on a couch surrounded by six friends playing cards. It’s a good time. We are joking, laughing, carrying on without a care in the world. I smile, laugh, and join in with the jokes while staring at the cards in my hand. If a camera panned past us, it would capture a scene out of “Friends.” To my friends and the outside world, everything appears normal – my life is great.
Three hours earlier, I sat on the corner of my bed staring into nothing, deep inside my own head.
“You’re not even a fan of card games. They are only inviting you over to be nice. Remember that one embarrassing thing you did last time? You don’t want to do that again, do you?” My breath is shallow, my warm face flushed. The battle to take control from anxiety begins. For nearly an hour, I’m busy coming up with thousands of reasons to bail on my friends. When I finally regain control over my mind, it all seems foolish. I have a group of friends who want to spend time with me. Why would I bail on them – to sit at home in the dark and watch another episode of “Planet Earth”?
As I get in my car and begin the drive over, the doubts come flooding back. Sometimes I stop breathing, hyperventilate, and feel as if I’m going to vomit. The battle rages through my mind and body. I stare at off-ramps on the highway as if they are a godsend, the voice in my head screaming, “Get off here, turn around, they don’t want you to come over anyway.” I swallow feelings and thoughts down as hard as I can until I pull into my friend’s driveway. I step outside, take a deep breath and my mind surrenders – its too late to turn back now.
I don’t always win, though. I’ve ignored, bailed, and turned around many times throughout my life on numerous friends and family events. I’ve fought anxiety my entire life, even let it define me for periods of times, despite the toll it’s taken on my friends and social life.
I am not alone. 18 percent of the population in the United States (approximately 40 million people) suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. Chances are, you know quite a few of these people and may not know it. Those of us fighting anxiety have a tendency to keep our troubles to ourselves. We put a stigma on those individuals who don’t fit the boxes we as a society have defined as being normal. We all try so hard to check those boxes, ignoring the cracks and imperfections that define who we really are.
Sometimes a smile or laugh is a façade. So the next time that friend bails on you seemingly without reason, don’t dismiss them so quickly. Sometimes they just need time, or a personal reach out. You never know what they’re battling.
And to those of you out there fighting the good fight, I am with you. I am one of you – and there is no shame in it. Take those deep breaths and put that first foot in front of the other. If that doesn’t work, reach out to your doctor, friends, or family. You are the most important part of your life – don’t ignore yourself.